I’ll put it out there from the start: I rely on a healthy dose of coffee to get going every morning. I even regularly hit a second (and sometimes third) cup at whichever coffee shop I choose to work from for the day. I’m well aware of the potential negative effects of coffee, but I like it and it gets me going. As I get older, however, I find it more and more important to consider how to improve mental focus naturally.
I think back to my college years and consider what many of my peers were willing to try to squeeze out a few extra hours of productivity in the wee hours of the night. The ease and convenience of some options were too much to pass up, but I think many of us might go back and put less “stuff” in our bodies if we were aware of how we could improve focus and productivity naturally. So let’s dive into some recommendations!
The importance of sleep can’t be underestimated. But I also understand that sleep is often the first area we skimp on when we feel busy. Does “there just aren’t enough hours in the day” sound familiar? The solution many of us have when we feel this way is to try to “create” more hours, and we often do this by cutting into our sleep time.
There is plenty of research showing that sleep hinders our ability to reason at high levels, solve problems, and pay attention to critical details. This article suggests that a good night of sleep involves 4 to 5 sleep cycles. These cycles consist of deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is typically when we dream. Adults should be getting between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night, teens need about 9 hours per night, children near the age of 10 needs about 10 hours, and babies typically sleep up to 16 hours per day.
Move Your Body
This may be another no-brainer, but it’s an area I neglect all too often. As a freelance writer, much of my productivity requires sitting (or standing) at a computer. This doesn’t exactly breed good health or a regular exercise routine. Even when I have the best of intentions to bike to work or go for a morning run, it’s often too easy to prioritize writing the next article or responding to all those unread emails before I do something great for my body.
As the saying goes, “a healthy body leads to a healthy mind.” Another one I recently heard that I really like is, “a moving body is a healthy body.” (Or something like that!) Body movement can be as simple as taking the dog for a mile walk in the morning instead of just letting him or her out in the yard to do their business. It can also be as easy as committing to stand up and stretch for 5 minutes after every 55 minutes of computer work.
If you’re already an active person, a regular exercise routine could simply require an evaluation of your time and an intention to use an hour per day to move. Studies in older populations have especially shown that walking on a regular basis improves cognitive function, memory, attention and processing speeds, and reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
You Are What You Eat…Literally
Many of us have heard this saying, but do we consider it on a daily basis. Yes, I know it’s easier to stop by that convenience store for a bag of chips than to wait in line at the supermarket just to buy one apple and some almond butter. But we quite literally turn into what we eat. So consider this: would you rather resemble that fatty bag or that curvy, buttery apple?
According to this article, a recent study completed at Cambridge University showed that the treadmill performance of lab rats on a high-fatty diet for five days decreased by 50 percent. These same rats also began to falter on the maze test they had previously been trained to master.
Recommendations for improving mental focus through altering your diet include cutting out fatty foods (like those oh-so-tempting and all-too-convenient McDonald’s french fries), increasing water consumption (even mild dehydration reduces memory and increases anxiety), and decreasing sugar intake (diets high in fructose slow brain function, memory, and learning ability).
Meditation and/or Tai Chi
A daily mindfulness practice is another excellent way to improve mental focus naturally. Practices like meditation and tai chi help to “de-clutter” your mind so that you can prioritize and focus much more effectively. These practices will also allow you to tune into your body more deeply to understand where you might be skimping in the areas I’ve mentioned above (sleep, diet, exercise, etc.).
Studies on meditation have shown that just five days of 20-minute meditation training can lead to improved attention span and decreased anxiety and fatigue (which hinder focus). Studies on Tai Chi have also found that the practice can improve memory, attention, and cognitive function in healthy adults.
What Are Your Biggest Barriers to Mental Focus?
I think it is super important to realize and consistently remind ourselves that we are all unique. While I hope these recommendations can truly help you if you make them a regular habit (which takes at least 21 days…see the proof here), I also realize that what works for some may not work for others. I also realize that we each have unique challenges when it comes to improving our mental focus.
We’d like to start a conversation on this topic, so we’d love to hear from you! You can drop a comment below or contact us directly. Fortunately, it’s becoming easier to discuss mental health and the role it plays in all of our lives. Sometimes it’s easier to open up to a stranger or new acquaintance than it is to dive into the depths of your mind with your friends and family. We want you to know we are here to listen if you need to share!
More Slow Life Resources!
If you’re interested in yoga and meditations, check out this week’s 4-Minute Love Meditation. We’re shifting our focus a bit in the coming months, so expect some new announcements in the coming weeks. If you’ve been following our yoga classes and would like more, please contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com!
If you need to find a new yoga studio close to where you live, or as you’re traveling on the road, be sure to check out Yoga Finder!
If you liked this article, please leave a comment below! If you have a question about anything, feel free to leave that below as well and I’ll do my best to respond hastily. As always, I wish you happiness and health, Namaste!